Healthy Offerings Or No, Study Says Teens Will Pile On The Fast Food Calories Anyway

For all that Subway markets its lower-calorie, healthy options, it appears adolescents and teens are going to load up with enough food to rival the calorie counts at places like McDonald’s, according to a new study. Researchers studying teens in Los Angeles say it doesn’t matter what’s on the menu, kids are going to buy meals with a whole lot of calories.

Lead researcher Dr. Lenard Lesser of the Palo Alto Medical Foundation Research Institute told the Los Angeles Times that just because there are healthier choices on the menu, that doesn’t mean kids will go for those items.

“Our study was not based on what people have the ability to pick, our study was based on what adolescents actually selected in a real-world setting,” he explains.

On average, participants aged 12 to 21 bought 1,038 calories worth of food at McDonald’s and 955 calories at Subway. That’s not enough of a difference to matter, statistically speaking, say researchers. Despite eating fewer calories at Subway, the amount is still more than the Institute of Medicine’s recommendation of 850 calories for a teen’s lunch.

“Most studies, but not all, have shown a positive relation between eating fast food and weight gain or obesity,” the researchers wrote. Once you’re inside those restaurants, researchers say “marketing strategies, such as pricing, signage, promotions and menu design” are a big part of what you’ll buy.

So even though Subway touts its healthy food for customers who want to lose weight, the proof is in the pudding — and pudding in this case, being what people actually buy, not what’s offered to them.

McDonald’s commented on the study via a spokeswoman, who said:

McDonald’s issued a statement through Lainey Garcia, a spokeswoman: “At McDonald’s, we are committed to evolving our menu to meet our customers’ changing tastes and to providing reliable nutrition information that empowers all our customers to make informed choices — whenever and wherever they visit us.”

Researchers note that if parents don’t want their kids making unhealthy choices at mealtimes, they should just “steer their children away from fast-food restaurants. No matter which one they choose, they are likely to purchase too many calories.”

Easier said than done, said anyone who’s ever tried to tell a teenager what to do.

Teens ate ‘too many calories’ at Subway and McDonald’s, study says [Los Angeles Times]